Did you know that WL Gore, creator of Gore-Tex and other high-tech fabrics, has no employees? I didn’t, until I read an article in the Financial Times about WL Gore’s management approach. It turns out that they have 8,500 “associates,” but no “employees.” But this isn’t just about terminology, the company operates with a very flat hierarchy, with only minimal bureaucracy; it’s baked into WL Gore’s corporate culture.
Even the appointment of CEO Terri Kelly was a group decision. Here’s what Kelly said:
Bill Gore had that vision right from the beginning, that everyone participates in the growth of the company, everyone’s a shareholder of the company … it’s a partnership, and you are part of that enterprise.
My take: The article discusses the strengths of WL Gore’s participatory management style. While the firm takes a lot of time to make decisions, it tends to have a high level of alignment around the outcome. So, in the long-run, the company deals with less resistance during implementation. And, as I’ve said in the past, engaging employees is a prerequisite for engaging customers.
As I thought about this situation, I realized that you need to look at decision making as a multi-step process which includes: making the decision, selling the decision internally, and implementing the decision. When you look at the entire system, it becomes clear why a slow decision making process can actually make for an even faster, more successful outcome:
The bottom line: Sometimes slower can be faster.